Prefab Houses Production: A Step Forward in Housebuilding?

Prefab houses, which are manufactured in a factory like a giant wind turbine or SUV and conveyed to their sites, appear to represent a step forward in housebuilding.

Supporters of prefabricated housing point out that the homes are higher quality. The hammer and nail route can be a difficult one, with mistakes being almost inevitable when windows, doors, plumbing, and other components are put on site in a short timeframe. There is less disruption in the neighbourhood when homes are built in four days and dropped on site instead of constructed over a period of months. Productivity is also improved because there are no delays due to bad weather, materials shortages, or worker error.

Times look set to change. In Japan, over 15% of new homes are prefabricated by companies such as Daiwa House, Misawa Homes and Sekisui House, which specialise in producing factory-perfect homes. The output is an estimated 10,000 durable, high-quality, and long-lasting homes a year.

Less than 10% of the new-build market in the UK is self-build, but several companies are starting to produce interesting prefab homes. NHouse makes a model that looks upscale compared to regular new-builds. The three-bedroom homes are approximately 20 square metres larger than the comparable average. They are constructed from cross-laminated hardwood and materials guaranteed to last 50 years. The windows are large, the ceilings high, and the buildings contain wide range of energy-efficient features. These homes generate an estimated 75% less traffic in the construction process than prefab houses and can be set up at any designated location in three days.

 

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One of these impressive properties can be purchased at volume prices for £125 a square foot. This price is not as low as the cheapest available, which is between £80 and £90, but as the production process gets better, NHouse representatives estimated it could produce these factory-produced and fully modular homes for around £100 per square foot. According to marketing manager Nick Fulford, there is no reason why lower-income families should have to live in substandard properties.

However, if prefab housing is to really improve the quality and productivity of the UK housebuilding industry, the larger site developers also need to buy into and support the concept, Smaller ones like Urban Splash make durable and attractive modular terraced homes that buyers can customise according to preference.  The really good news, however, is that many of the larger builders are getting in on the prefab housing game too. Prominent financial services company Legal & General has recently opened a modular homes division with the intention of creating a complete construction revolution. Its inaugural build, constructed in partnership with housing association RHP, is the LaunchPod, a 26 square-metre property designed by Wimshurst Pelleriti.

Another newcomer is Wilson, which has hired a team that specialises in modern manufacturing (primarily of automobiles) and intends to produce thousands of environmentally sustainable, defect-free, attractive, and light properties from a new precision-engineered factory. Representatives confirm that there are no hammers or nails in sight.

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